Poverty drives a mercedes

Trip Start Nov 15, 2005
Trip End Aug 15, 2008

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Flag of Albania  ,
Monday, July 17, 2006

The trip down to Tirana was surprisingly easy, considering I had almost no information about how to get there. Once again, the transport connections worked well; Croatia and Slovenia really need to get their act together if they're being shown up by Albania!
With no direct buses, it was a case of getting a bus to Ulcinj (the southern tip of the Montenegran coast), a minibus from there over the border to Shkodra and then another minibus down to Tirana. I barely even had to wait anywhere. I think the only reason it took the better part of half a day was because of the state of Albania's roads. That's an experience in itself!

Tirana is different. The second poorest country in Europe, and it's very obvious in the capital. Not so much for beggars or anything like that (it's no worse than any other country in that respect), but more so in the general condition of the city. The roads are an appalling mess - the "bus station" is a mass of road works - and the pavements (if they exist) are little better. The buildings are an odd mix. Most are very run down, or (at best) have a brightly painted facade attempting to cover the state of the place and then there are the recent developments. An initiative by the current mayor, these are all very modern designs and brightly painted, and looking very out of place. Oddly, most of the young people walking around seem very well dressed, as out of place as the new buildings.

Until you get to Blloku, that is. Once the Communist Party elite hang out, and closed to the public until 91, it now sits in stark contrast to the rest of the city. Everything seems sparkling and clean, trees line the streets and trendy cafes are everywhere. It could be in any modern capital in Europe, yet walk for one minute and you're back in the poverty the rest of Tirana enjoys.

The weirdest thing about Tirana? Everyone drives expensive cars here. About 3/4 of the cars you see are either BMW, Audi, VW or Mercedes; 1/2 of that number (at least) has to be Mercedes. There's quite a lucrative black market in stolen cars here, it seems.

Still, I enjoyed the difference here. I've been in Europe for so much longer than anticipated, and things were beginning to get a little bit repetitive. Coming down here has been a bit of a shock to the system in a good way. Also, the one hostel in Tirana was a nice place, oddly set in the middle of the Embassy district. Strange to be sitting on the balcony of an evening and see armed guards walking past.
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